Saturday, October 02, 2010
Rarely do I give Parenting Advice but...
I was reading an article online that said "Are we raising Moron's?" and then on the same day I came across an article that said "What kind of moron's are raising kids today?" I have to say, I sometimes wonder about these things too.
I rarely give out parenting advice. Mainly because I think the number one mistake a person can make is to get too confident in their parenting skills. I've seen that over and over again, as soon as someone starts giving advice they experience a major FAIL in some spectacular and public way which ends up being very embarrassing considering the fact that they just claimed to know something about parenting and their kid did something to prove them wrong.
Let's face it, no parent is going to be perfect. If you think you are, I've got big news for you - you're not. It's impossible.
But having said that, some people are better than others. So here's some general parenting advice I've learned - some really BASIC things I thought I'd share.
If you're a parent who think their kid needs to be entertained all the time, get over it. They do not need to be entertained all the time. And they don't need to be at a friends or a have a friend over all the time either. If you have kids in your neighborhood who want to play all the time, I'd put a tight lid on that. Wanna know the number one place I've seen most kids start to get in trouble? At OTHER people's houses. Because honestly, most parents will not pay attention the way you would like. And when they get older and parents leave kids home alone...that's when real trouble starts. You may not be thinking about that when your kid is 8 and parents are usually around all the time, but I've got to tell you, it's a quick trip from 8 to 12 and your neighbor leaves the liquor cabinet unlocked.
Your kid doesn't need to read when he is 3 but he does need to learn to love books. Parents who get overly intense about kids getting ahead when they are still in pre-school are not doing a kid or themselves any favors. Look I've seen kids who can't learn the abc's when they are still in pre-school be excellent readers in grade school and I've seen kids who learn to read in pre-school who get really bored in school. Read to your kid and they'll learn to appreciate books.
Parents who get super uptight about safety are sometimes surprisingly lax about parenting as their kids get older. Intensity about wearing a helmet while riding a bike, or pads while skateboarding or seat belts while riding in a vehicle will sometimes let their kids have an unsupervised party when they become teens. I've no idea why this is true, but it happens all the time. Don't assume someone is a good parent to little kids and to teens. It takes a different skill set to be a good parent to a teen.
You don't have to let your kid do something just because you think they need to learn for themselves when they are teens. Teenagers are notoriously stupid. They make bad decisions ALL THE TIME. They probably make more sound decisions when they are 5 than they do when they are 14. Now is the time to pay attention MORE than you did when they were little. And it's okay to say "no". No you can't date her, no you can't go to the party, no you can't hang out with your friends this weekend, no you aren't meeting them at the mall. It's okay if you have a good reason, or if you have a gut reaction to a situation. Trust your gut. You don't have to give them all your reasons and they don't have to like it. They will get over it much sooner than you think, especially if you're a reasonable parent otherwise. Don't say no to EVERYTHING. Use it judiciously when it matters.
If your kids like you your life will be much easier when you have to tell them "No.". Use humor as much as possible to diffuse. It really works. If your house is a place where people laugh a lot, if your kids have a good sense of humor, and they know you have a good sense of humor, I guarantee you'll have a much easier time raising them.
It seems cute for a kid to have a "boyfriend" or a "girlfriend" when they are little. Trust me, you don't want to encourage that crap. It's not so cute when they get a little older and you've been a cheerleader regarding these "cute" relationships and now they are 11 and want to meet someone at the movies. Now what are you going to do? Let your kid start dating when they're 11? That's what happens. Trust me. And most parents will just let that happen, so you'll be fighting an uphill battle if you encouraged it and you're suddenly in an uncomfortable position and you have to say 'no' or worse, you can't quite figure out how to say 'no' because you figure they are still little kids at 11 and what's going to happen? They'll be fine. Yeah. They'll be fine, but they'll be dating from now on. Just realize that's what you're saying yes to.
It does not matter if your kids are popular or not. I know, we all secretly want our kids to be popular or at least to have friends they really like and fit in. That's normal and that's fine. But realize that popularity can be a double edged sword. There are a lot more important things than sheer popularity. Teach your kids to be Confident. Kind. Compassionate. Respectful. Happy. If they learn those things you won't really have to worry in the long run anyway. But the last thing you want to do is get them to focus on the popularity thing from a young age. It's pretty much a recipe for disaster and I've seen parents make that mistake over and over again. And besides, kids who are super obsessed with how other people view them are really never very popular in the long run anyway, because it's like the opposite of being confident.
School is important. Confidence is even more important to their long term success.
Teach your kids how to fail. Teach your kids about making mistakes and trying again. There is no success in life without failure. Let them fail sometimes. Don't always be saving them. Don't ever do their homework for them. You can help. You can cheer them on. You can and should pay attention to what they are working on and stay on top of them getting things done. But you should never, never, ever DO any of it for them. I don't care if you're worried that all the other kids are getting help on their science project or some kid in class has a dad with a printing company who does his school posters for him. That's okay, that kid with the dad with the printing company is never going to make it in life without dad's help. Don't do the same disservice to your own kid. Today everyone gets a medal and everyone gets an award. And sometimes that's okay. But kids really do need to learn that life isn't really like that, and no one really owes them anything. They really need to learn that life isn't fair, you'll have teachers you don't like, other people are going to be mean sometimes and they have to learn to deal with it and still be good people themselves, life throws amazing curve balls sometimes, and things can be really disappointing. That's okay. Learning how to pick up and try again, learning how to smile even when things aren't currently going our way, learning how to deal with people who are not so nice...that's what life is really all about.
Never fix a kid's fight. Stay out of it. Getting involved in kid drama - even if other parents are involved, is NEVER a good idea. Let them work it out on their own. You can give advice, but never take over the situation.
Trust your kids. But don't trust them too much. Bring me a parent who says "my kid never lies to me...ever" and I'll show you a seriously delusional parent. 9 times out of 10 when a parent tells me that, I already know for sure of at least one instance where their kid totally lied to them.
Use punishment sparingly. Use love first.
Teach them to do chores but remember - they are not your slaves! You have to work with them! It makes me crazy when parents who have a generally messy house all the time want their kids to do everything. It doesn't work that way. They learn from example first and foremost. And also, don't expect kids to do things or clean in ways which are beyond their capacity to handle. You've got to cut things down into really small tasks when they are little and gradually increase the difficulty as they grow. That sounds simple but I see parents do that all the time. They tell their 5 year old to clean his whole room when it's a complete disaster - they have no idea where to even start. I have to say teaching my kids to do chores is one of the things I have done well with. It wasn't easy at first, but once I got that first one trained, the other two fell in line easily. Especially because my oldest told the other two "look, just do what she asks and then she'll leave you alone. Do it right the first time and she'll be happy and then you can do what you want and she won't bug you...but if you don't, she'll make your whole day miserable".
I said it before but I'm going to end with advice that I already gave because I think it's the most important. Humor. Diffuse everything with humor if possible. Don't yell, joke. Don't beg, kid around. Don't engage in an argument, be funny. Have dance parties at your house. Sing in the car. Have an alter ego. I have an alter ego names Ho Xiu Mai who picks my kids up when I'm running late. She's their Chinese nanny and she can't drive worth a crap. My kids can't be mad at the funny Chinese nanny who barely speaks English even though they may be mad at me for being late.